From Porto, drive an hour east and you’ll arrive at sleepy town Amarante. The name derives from the Portuguese verb of “love,” it’s no surprise Amarante’s dreamy scenery completely lives up to the root of its meaning.
Since it’s so close to Porto, Amarante often welcomes residents of Porto and now many international visitors as well. There are approximately 11,000 people who live in this quiet city where lives revolve around the Tâmega River.
What you’ll soon realize is, Amarante’s sordid history is mostly recognized from the 13th century then later via Saint Gonçalo. This captivating hidden gem makes the perfect day trip, a calm and easy getaway from Porto so you can further explore Northern Portugal.
What to see:
1. Snap a photo as you cross Ponte São Gonçalo.
Situated over the stunning Tâmega River, São Gonçalo Bridge is the icon of Amarante. Acting almost as a welcome sign to the city, the bridge dates back to the 18th century. During the Roman period, this was the route taken from Amarante to Guimarães and Braga.
2. Looking for love? Touch the statue above Gonçalo’s tomb inside Igreja de São Gonçalo.
Classified as a national monument, Igreja de São Gonçalo and Mosteiro de São Gonçalo were founded in 1543 by João III. Though it took almost 100 years to complete, the church itself is an artistry. Notice the 17th century statues of Dom João and various kings along the Italian Renaissance side portal. The 18th century bell tower is also worthy of a few snaps. Enter the tiny chapel where you’ll see Gonçalo’s tomb. Legend has it that, those looking for love should touch the statue above Gonçalo’s tomb, to have their wish granted within a year.
3. For contemporary art, stop by Museu Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso.
If you’re in the mood for some avant-garde artwork, then don’t miss Museu Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso. It features artist Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso (1887-1918), who lived and painted in Paris.
4. Check out the upside-down Christ on the Cross at Igreja de São Domingos.
The 18th century church not only encompasses a gorgeous view of Amarante, it also holds an unusual carving of Christ suspended upside-down on the Cross.
5. Admire the azulejos tiles inside Igreja de São Pedro.
The 17th century Baroque-style church is known for the magnificent azulejos tiles inside its holy walls.
6. Learn about Portuguese history at Solar dos Magalhães.
Near the train station right above Rua Cândido dos Reis, you’ll see ruins of an old manor house that were left by Napoleon’s troops. The Solar dos Magalhães is a reminder of the somber part of Portuguese history during Napoleon’s invasion. The house belonged to the Magalhães family, but burned by the French troops in 1809. The ruins is a symbol of the Portuguese resistance against the French invasion.
What to eat:
6. Sip on coffee, have a penis-shaped cake!
Every year, during Festas do Junho, phallic-shaped cakes called bolos are sold all over Amarante. Eaten as good luck charms for young couples, bolos are typically coated in white icing and stuffed with sweet cream inside. During the festival, single ladies will receive what locals call doces fálicos (it means “phallic sweets”) from men as a sign of flirtation.
7. Enjoy the river view with sweets at Confeitaria da Ponte.
Confeitaria da Ponte is a cute little cafe next to Tâmega River, you should sit on its outdoor terrace and enjoy a cup of joe with sweets. The interior is also charming, with a wide range of pastries to choose from.
8. Eat at Largo do Paço for a gastronomic meal.
For an unforgettable Michelin-esque meal, you should head to Largo do Paço – Casa da Calçada. Located inside a Relais & Chateaux hotel, Largo do Paço is on the pricy side (menu 85-105 euros, a la carte 60-90 euros) but well worth it. Inside a graceful aristocratic villa, the dishes feature traditional Portuguese cuisine prepared in a modern approach. Don’t forget the wine list, it’s fabulous.
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